Evangelical Values-Voters Struggle with Choosing Trump for President

With Trump leading GOP ticket, many evangelicals are at an impasse .

November 04, 2016, 3:15 PM

— -- White evangelical voters have been reliable Republican voters for decades, but this year some are having trouble reconciling their Christian values with Donald Trump’s unholy language.

With Trump at the top of the GOP ticket, many of the faithful are at an impasse this election.

Pastor Ed Young, who leads the 20,000 members of The Fellowship Church in Dallas, said it is a “sad commentary on our culture, that these are the two that we're left with," referring to Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Evangelical Christians vote their values, with the economy and their opposition to abortion as huge issues -- and this group has been a crucial GOP constituency in the election of presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. But for many, some of what they have seen and heard from the 2016 Republican nominee has been hard to stomach.

“It’s disgusting, but there's disgust on both sides,” said Ed Young's wife Lisa Young.

Pastor Young has not publicly supported a candidate and says he would not use his ministry to do so, but he said he did get a call from Trump’s campaign.

“They say they wanted me to attend this rally and this group and I just politely said 'no,'” Young said. “I said the same thing to President Obama years ago. I just don't want to be in a situation where, ‘Vote for Obama. Vote for Donald Trump.’ I just want to be able to talk about Jesus.”

But for all their ambivalence and angst about the election, the Youngs have made up their minds -- they said they are voting for Trump.

“I think as Christians we should vote for the platform and not the person,’ Ed Young said.

Roughly 900 miles away, across the Bible Belt in a South Carolina town that has fewer residents than Young’s church has congregants on any given Sunday, there is a very different kind of church.

Pastor Mark Burns leads the Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, South Carolina. Unlike Young, Burns accepted Trump’s invitation and quickly became one of the Trump campaign’s go-to pastors, delivering a fiery speech at the Republican National Convention.

Burns is one of the few African-American pastors publicly supporting Trump and as such, he said, “We did go through some battles.”

Burns doesn’t believe supporting Trump conflicts with his faith.

“I don't believe Donald Trump is qualified to lead anybody's church,” he said. “I don't believe Donald Trump is qualified to even lead a Bible study. But do I believe he talks to God in reference to the direction of our country? I can say, absolutely yes.”

When Trump was asked at a Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, last year if he had ever asked God for forgiveness, Trump said he hadn’t. But his answer didn’t seem to bother Pastor Burns.

“What Donald Trump was trying to say was that, ‘I don't want to bring God in the mix of my failure. I want to try to do it right. I want to make it right to you. I'm not just going to make it spiritual and then still do you wrong,’” Burns said.

But other evangelical Christians disagree with Burns' view of Trump and feel a moral imperative to speak out.

After the release of "Access Hollywood" tapes in which Trump talks about groping women, a scathing op-ed in Christianity Today, one of the country's top evangelical magazines, proclaimed, “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Donald Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.”

To Katelyn Beaty, the magazine's editor-at-large, and to many others commenting on social media, those tapes were the last straw.

Beaty said she's troubled many of the country's top evangelical leaders still back Trump.

“I’m concerned when I see these leaders continuing to support Trump,” she said. “They are actually forsaking their responsibility to uphold the dignity of women for political expedience.”

Another evangelical leader who opposes Trump is Denny Burk, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

Burk pulls no punches, calling Trump “Mussolini-in-waiting.” In his blog, Burk has called Trump “an extinction-level event,” writing, “He must never be allowed near the Oval Office, ever.”

“He already has divided conservatives,” Burk said. “Not just people who are politically conservative, but religious conservatives.”

Burk said he will vote on Election Day, but not for either of the major-party presidential candidates. He acknowledges, however, that many fellow Christian conservatives will choose differently.

“To fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, religious conservatives who are concerned about the unborn, I think they're right to be concerned about that and I share it,” he said. “What you have is a lot of people looking at two dumpster fires and trying to figure out which one is burning a little less brightly ... I'm sympathetic with that. I just disagree.”

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events